November 13, 2001
Parade, book by Alfred Uhry, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, directed by Norm Johnson Jr., choreographed by Mary Corsaro, music directed by Patrick Hansen, set by Daniel Meeker, costumes by Lily Westbrook, lighting by Tyler Elich, sound by Jake Hall, for Ithaca College Theatre.
The Ithaca College musical is a high point of every autumn, and last week's production of Parade was no exception. With a cast of 36 and an orchestra of 21, the work provided a showcase for a trove of talented performers and for the formidable training provided by the college's several programs in music and theater arts. The vehicle is a strange one, however, with added layers of foreboding stemming from the events of September 11.
The front curtain of the mainstage was painted in red, white, and blue
stars and stripes with dark connotations. They were the slanting starred
bars of the Confederate flag. The story opens on April 26, 1913, in Atlanta,
Georgia as the city prepares to celebrate the annual Confederate Memorial
Day with a grand parade. In those opening moments, the celebration reverberates
ominously as the good citizens of Atlanta express their excitement at the
parade. Over all hover the chill presentiments of crowd mentality and the
potential for acts of hot-eyed political or cultural chauvinism. There
are no surprises; the story is based on a once well-known and appalling
miscarriage of justice - the Leo Frank case - an event that has inspired
four books and five stage, film, and TV enactments. Frank, a Jew, was falsely
accused of raping and murdering young Mary Phagan, an employee in the pencil
factory he supervised. The accusation ignited a firestorm of anti-Semitism.
The evidence against him was suborned by a district attorney with political
ambitions; Frank was found guilty, but the governor commuted his execution
to life in prison, whereupon a group of 25 vigilantes dragged him out of
prison and lynched him. Dark stuff for a musical! Which is not to say that
there aren't light moments. One occurs on a tram, where young Frankie Epps
(Adam Kaokept) does a delightfully athletic and flirtatious dance with
a young woman, who, we will learn, is Mary Phagan (Kim Burns). The couple
are sprightly and fetching performers, and later, Kaokept's voice and person
will dominate long moments of the trial as he calls in anguish and hatred
for revenge for Mary's murder. Another apparently light sequence takes
place at a party given by the governor (Bruce Warren) and his lady (Courtney
Morris). While dark political plotting is going on to one side, the host
and hostess - dressed in dazzling white - are giving an exquisite exhibition
of the quickstep. A rich and powerful element of the production is Mary
Corsaro's choreography. Especially memorable is "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'"
with Dianna Lora, Eddie Cooper, Joe Reid, and Jamal McDonald - African-American
all, singing sardonically about the fuss surrounding the hanging of one
white man when unnoticed there are "black men hanging from every tree."
McDonald who, as Jim Conley, performs a complex and challenging role, also
leads the most dynamic song and dance sequence, "Blues: Feel the Rain Fall,"
in which Corsaro's work shines. Director Norm Johnson Jr. has drawn stunning
performances from his huge cast. Outstanding as both singer and dancer
is Kevin Rockover as a local reporter, complaining at first that there's
no news in Atlanta that will bring him national prominence, then leaping
on the Frank case like a slavering vulture. Leaving a lasting impression
is Lucy Sorenson as Leo's wife Lucille. She has a fine voice and invests
the part with a heart-breakingly sturdy and luminous quality. Highest kudos
goes to Robert Koutras as Leo. What a versatile performer! There's depth
and dimension to his interpretation of this simple and unprepossessing
man who finds himself in an unutterable nightmare. The show, however, also
calls on him to act out - to sing and dance - the sly and slimy character
that the suborned witnesses are creating. And what an amazing performance
- loose-limbed, salacious, and predatory - Koutras gave! The production
values were - as we've come to expect of IC - excellent. In Daniel Meeker's
set, the wings were posted with huge blow-ups of the front pages of newspapers
of the time - reflecting the tensions of the red scare, of the looming
Great War, and more. Meeker provided an atmosphere both delicate and brutal.
Tyler Elich's lighting was complex - the horrible fantasy of Leo Frank
as monster and the ghost of Mary Phagan were picked out in harsh white
against the warmer general lighting, and so much more. Lily Westbrook's
costumes were subtle compositions of respectable browns and grays-subdued
but never drab. Once again, this was the annual IC musical - a blockbuster
of a showcase for all the fine training - musical and theatrical - that
goes on there.
©Ithaca Times 2001
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